The quarry pond at Halibut Point State Park in Rockport.

–>Last summer the White House, in partnership with various Federal Land Management agencies, kicked off an initiative to help children become more active and increase their time spent outdoors. “A Kid In Every Park” granted all children entering fourth grade for the 2015-2016 school year a complimentary pass to all national parks, national forests, and other federally-managed lands.

To align itself with this initiative, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) launched a parallel program, the Great Outdoors Expert Challenge. The DCR’s program, which includes free admission to state parks for every child with a Kid In Every Park pass, focuses on properties here in Massachusetts, and encourages children to aim for ten key experiences.
1. Explore Nature:Attend a nature program hosted by our park interpreters!
2. Play! Have fun at one of our playgrounds, courts or ball fields!
3. Get your Feet Wet or Go for a Swim: Visit one of our many lakes, ponds, pools, or ocean beaches!
4. Follow a Trail:Hike a Healthy Heart Trail, or pedal along one of our rail trails!
5. Camp Under the Stars: Stay overnight at one of our 29 campgrounds across the state!
6. Connect with the past: Visit a historical park and learn about Massachusetts’s rich history!
7. Hike a Summit:Visit a mountain in Massachusetts and hike to the top for a great view!
8. Picnic in a Park:Attend one of our Outdoor Kitchen Programs or make your own healthy recipe to enjoy at our parks!
9. Bring a Friend to a Park He or She has not Visited: Be adventurous, visit a new park and try a new activity!
10. Share Your Story (in video, pictures or words): Tell us about your experiences and the reasons you love our state parks! #EveryKidinaPark #MassParks
Even if you’re not eligible for free admission, our state parks are relatively inexpensive to visit (often there is no fee at all). And there are so many! Twenty four in the Boston area, 39 out west, 29 in Central Massachusetts, 31 north of Boston, and 38 here in the South Region. In all, we have 161 state parks in Massachusetts. Time to plan some summer adventures! Or if you’re not inclined to travel, you could apply the same criteria listed above to our local parks and conservations areas.
Eventually, I’d like to visit all of our state parks. I am very slowly making my way through the list. Last year it was Purgatory Chasm, the Cape Cod Rail Trail, and Wompatuck. The year before, Mount Greylock and the Blue Hills.
In June, I was able to check off two items: Mount Sugarloaf State Reservation in South Deerfield, and Halibut Point State Park in Rockport. So I’ve done my summit (#7) and also my trail (#4), and here I am sharing my story (#10)!
If nothing else, visit Mount Sugarloaf State Reservation for the view. Located at 300 Sugarloaf Street, just off Route 91, this park gives you a bird-s eye view of the Pioneer Valley. You can see the town of Sunderland up close, with UMass Amherst and points south in the distance. You have the option of driving (or maybe biking?) up the auto road, or you can hike an adjacent trail through the woods. My son (age 10) and I, along with another family with slightly younger children, spent about an hour climbing up. Once at the summit, we ascended the spiral staircase to the top of the observatory, where – it being a weekday, and thus not crowded – we could spend some time enjoying the panoramic vistas. The summit would be a great place for a picnic too. There are tables, and plenty of lawn on which to rest, plus clean restrooms!
A few days prior, I visited Halibut Point State Park on my own, having traveled to the North Shore for work. Situated on Cape Ann, Rockport is a beautiful coastal town and a tourist attraction, in part because of its shops, inns and restaurants. Just a couple miles out of the town center you’ll find both Halibut Point State Park and an adjoining property managed by the Trustees of Reservations. Together they offer hours of activity – walking paths, hiking trails, tide pools, local history, and spectacular views. The park centers around a 19th-century granite quarry. Look for the self-guided tour pamphlet and fill yourself in on its history. The rocky slopes that lead down to the ocean are inviting as well. Swimming isn’t advised, but I saw numerous visitors in beach chairs enjoying the sunshine and the sounds of the surf. Parking is limited, so if you’re visiting on the weekend, arrive early or make alternate plans in case you have to wait to get in.
For more information about Massachusetts State Parks, visit http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dcr/massparks/places-to-go/
by Kezia Bacon 
July 2016  
Kezia Bacon’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit www.nsrwa.org. To browse 20 years of Nature (Human and Otherwise) columns, visit http://keziabaconbernstein.blogspot.com